Fernwood was the beautiful country estate of Col. “Jack” C. Hays (1817–1883) and his wife Susan. In its time (starting c. late 1850s) it was located well out of town, near today’s Mountain Boulevard and Thornhill Drive in Montclair along Temescal Creek. The remote canyon was frequently referred to as “Hays Canyon” or “Jack Hays Canyon”, even after Hays’ death. Hays arranged to grade and improve Canyon Road, which twisted down through the Temescal valley from his property toward downtown Oakland; that road later became Moraga Avenue.
After Hays’ death, the estate was sold to William J. Dingee of the Oakland Water Company, and Susan moved to Dingee’s home in Alameda. Dingee built an opulent 19-room Queen-Anne style mansion, and had additional landscaping done with gardens, terraces and waterfalls. He also added such features as a deer park and an elk paddock.
Sadly, the home and countless artworks were destroyed in a fire in 1899 2, and the land was sold to the Realty Syndicate. In 1907, ”Borax” Smith, Frank Havens, E. A. Heron, Samuel J. Taylor, and F. W. Beardslee started the Fernwood Company to divide it into lots and sell it. 1
A small section of stone wall, reportedly near or on Thornhill, may be the last surviving physical remnant of a once-grand estate, whose name lives on via Fernwood Drive.